Monthly Archives: August 2012

26. Two Dangerous Mistakes

As I was reading auto and apartment listings in the Seattle Weekly, my eyes drifted towards the personal ads.  In New York City, personal ads were for sadomasochists, transvestites, etc.  But here in Seattle, the ads seemed to be written by normal people.  I mentioned this to Ashley.

“I know someone who married a man she met through the personals!  You should definitely write one!  Karen, if anyone needs to get married, it’s you.  I could never afford this house on my salary alone.”

My ad read:  “SWF, new in town, looking for SWM. New in town,  Ivy League educated, long legged F seeks noble voracious reader with tantalizing mind.  I love tennis and sailing.  Must be financially and emotionally mature.”

Ashley insisted I put that last part in.  I didn’t really love tennis or sailing, although I had taught tennis and spent weekends of my childhood sailing on my father’s boat.

I received 60 responses, and Ashley invited her friends over to help me decide which ones I would date.  There was a male model who just included a photograph , with no letter.  Ashley said no.   We narrowed it down to three men.  Most letters were eliminated because they began with “Hi Baby.”

Ashley and Mike were going away one weekend, and I was to house sit and dog sit their mixed breed rescue dog, Sunshine.  I was the one who walked Sunshine now.

I had bought a maroon Honda hatchback with the money saved from my telemarketing and Amway jobs and my mother’s help.  It was my first car.

I was coming home from the dog park with Sunshine in the car when I locked the car door with the house keys inside the car.  I panicked, not knowing what to do.  I was in real trouble.  And then it started to pour.  Here I was, outside in the rain with Sunshine, and no place to go.

Desperate, I went to a neighbor’s house, and knocked on the door.  An old man answered.  I explained my situation, and he invited me in.  He had probably seen me naked in the outdoor jacuzzi.  His wife offered me tea, which I accepted.  They spoke with thick German accents.  Thank God they were home.  The old man said we should check the house to see if there were any open windows, and call a locksmith.

The old man actually found an open window on the first floor.  He climbed in, and let us in.  I was so thankful and relieved.  The locksmith came and opened the car door.  I never mentioned a word of this incident to Ashley, who already thought I was flaky.

Then one of the men from the personal ad called me.  I told him my address and he said he would come pick me up.  When Ashley called to check in with me, she freaked out when I told her about the date coming to the house,

“You gave a stranger our address?  Karen, he could be a serial killer, and he knows you’re alone in the house!”  Oh God.  I had made another dangerous mistake.  I felt sick to my stomach, and very much afraid.  This was TedBundyville.

The stranger arrived at my door, and of course he looked nothing like his photograph.  He sported a mullet, which was a deal breaker.  I was afraid of what he’d do if I rejected him, so I stupidly got into his car.  He drove me downtown and took me to a raucously loud bar in Pioneer Square.  We could barely talk to each other over the noise.  I was bored and uncomfortable.  Fortunately, this was Seattle, and he was harmless, taking me home safely.

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25. An awkward dinner party

“I’ll do anything to help,” I told Ashley, and unfortunately, I meant it.  I couldn’t stand to see her crying.

Ashley had obviously thought a lot about what I could do.

“You could take out a student loan for five grand.  I’ll pay you back.”

She was asking destitute me, who made $700 per month, to help pay back her wealthy father?  Then I made one of my worst mistakes ever–I agreed, and I agreed without an I.O.U. that I would be paid back.  I didn’t want to do it, but I felt guilty about staying with her for weeks.

This mistake I had made was right up there with the time a director offered to have my play produced in the Edinburgh play festival in Scotland, if only I changed the ending.  I would not compromise my artistic integrity.  So I didn’t get to go to Scotland, which I regret to this day.

Ashley was careless, like Tom and Daisy in the Great Gatsby.  She used the women who worked for her to pick up her dry cleaning and do her bidding.  I considered this an abuse of her power, and anti-feminist.

Ashley had dinner parties every weekend.

“Karen, how do you cook corn?”  Ashley didn’t cook.

“I’ll do it, ” I said.  “You put it in a pot of boiling water, after you husk it.”

“How long do you cook it for?”

“About three minutes or so.”

“How do you know if it’s done?”

“You just know.  That’s cooking.” I said.

One of Ashley’s guests had a baby with too much water in his brain.  I watched as he repeatedly banged his forehead against the coffee table.

“Isn’t he hurting himself?”  I asked the mother.

“That’s how he learns.” She said.  That baby was me, repeatedly banging my head into obstacles, taking a long time to learn.

At the dinner table, Ashley was telling everyone how wonderful the new corporate credit card was.

One of her women “slaves” pointed out that the card had limits.

“Oh. I didn’t know that. I use it all the time.”

“Have you been buying clothing with it?”  The slave asked, nervously.

“Well, only work clothes.”

“That’s against the rules.”

“Oh, whoops!” Ashley laughed, but everyone was silent.  Apparently everyone knew about Ashley’s shopaholic ways.

In the middle of the dinner party, one of the slave’s husbands, who was drunk, said, “I don’t like the way you use my wife.”  Everyone was stunned silent once again.

“You make her buy drugs for you,” he said.  “I don’t want you exploiting my wife, making her do illegal things, anymore.  I’ll report you to the police if you try that again.”

Mike stiffened.  “I think you’re drunk.  I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“Is the pot for her, or for you, Doctor?”

“Get out of my house.”

The next day, Ashley was upset.  “I can’t  believe Patrick attacked me last night, in front of everyone.”  I wanted to point out that perhaps she shouldn’t use her staff like that.  But I just listened to her deflect blame.

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24.Debt

She keeps me in her basement; it is a daylight basement, in her sprawling home on  Queen Anne, Seattle.  Ashley married a doctor shortly after graduating from Cornell, and now she has this huge house overlooking Puget Sound, where she has graciously allowed me to stay for three weeks while I find an apartment, buy a car and furniture and dishes and silverware.

Ashley is pregnant.  She had been pregnant once before, right before her wedding.  She aborted her child because she wanted to be thin, not pregnant, at her wedding.  I implored her to keep the baby.

“But you’re a pro-choice feminist, and you’re the only bridesmaid not supporting me!”

I was pro-choice, but I did not believe in aborting a fetus because it was growing at an inconvenient time.  I was pro-choice because I knew abortions would be performed whether they were legal or not, and I wanted a woman to be able to have them safely when they were too young, or couldn’t afford to support a child.

“Everyone thinks Mike and I are the perfect couple,” Ashley said.  Ashley came from money, old money.  Her parents lived in a mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut.  She had never had to struggle, unlike me.

But it was clear from the next morning that there was trouble in paradise. Ashley said I should pick up the mail when it was delivered before Mike came home at night.  She would take the mail from me, rifle through it, curse, and tear  up the bank statements.

“I can’t let Mike see that I am over drafting each month.  I’m just getting over being a shopaholic.  I go to meetings.  My lowest point was buying a remote control holder.”

Meanwhile Mike and I were getting stoned every night.

“You can never tell anyone that Mike gets high every night.  He’s on call all the time.  No one can ever know, he has a good reputation.”

One of Ashley’s wifely duties was to secure the pot.  We were always going to far away dive bars to meet dealers.  One time Ashley left me alone in the bar, and a drunken biker approached me.

“You are my dream girl from the 70’s,” he said.

“Really?  Because you are my nightmare.” I said.

It was only a matter of time before Mike found out that Ashley was  over drafting and over spending, and, apparently, as I couldn’t help overhearing  the violent fight I cowered from in the basement guest room, that Ashley was dipping into her child’s college fund.

“We could go to jail for this!”  Mike yelled.  Ashley must have been writing bad checks. Mike screamed at her for hours.

The next morning, at breakfast, I couldn’t look at Mike, I didn’t say “good morning.”

Ashley acted like nothing had happened.  She later confessed to me.

“I’m in trouble with my dad about money too.  He’s trying to teach me the value of a dollar.  I borrowed five grand from him, and now he wants it back.  He keeps hounding me.  Where the hell am I going to get five grand?”

She started to cry.

“I wish I could do something.”

I was living in her house rent-free, eating her food.  I felt beholden to her.  I had already caused damage to her house.  She had asked me if I knew how to kill slugs, and I salted them right on the deck.  I forgot to put out a dish with beer in it first, to draw them in.  The salt removed the stain on the deck.

To make up for that, I offered to clean out her jacuzzi.  I spilled the buckets of water from the jacuzzi down the incline of Queen Anne hill, near the house.

Shortly thereafter, long bugs appeared in the shower of my bathroom.  Soon they infested all the bathrooms.  Ashley called the exterminator, and I was to let him in.

“These are water bugs.  Did you have a flood here recently?”  He said.

He talked at length about the bugs, and then took me outside to see where the bugs were coming from.  He took my hand as we walked down the rock path.

When he called Ashley he said, “Beautiful house.  Beautiful girl inside the house.  Is she single?”  Ashley eagerly told him I was available.  Thank God he hadn’t appeared when I was using the jacuzzi naked, which Ashley and Mike found shocking.  “We have neighbors!”  They warned.

“Ashley, I am not dating an exterminator!”  I said.  How desperate did she think I was?  She was always trying to fix me up with ugly guys.  On the first night that I arrived, she had tried to fix me up with Cheese man, which they called him because he didn’t eat cheese.  He was bald with thick, giant glasses.

“Cheese man likes you.  He said you’re the most alive, vibrant woman he’s ever met.”

“Ashley, he’s hideous and old!’

“He’s loaded.”  Cheese man worked at a large software company, and he owned stock in the company.”  Ashley was becoming Jane Austen’s Emma.

And now here she was, needing my help.

“Actually,” she said, “There is something you can do.”

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23. The Vision

I was 24 and I didn’t own one plate,  one fork, or one piece of furniture.   All I owned was a mountain of books on literary criticism.   Tears rolled down my face as I taped up my boxes of books to take with me to Seattle, where I would be studying for my Ph.D.  Why am I doing this on my own?  I thought.  I had never thought of marriage before, I thought only about my career as a professor and playwright, like my mentor, Paula Vogel, who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and teach at Yale.  That was my destiny, I was sure of it, my mother was sure of it. My mother had always championed my literary aspirations, despite her suggestion that I should get a job working with computers. But life hadn’t happened to me yet; I hadn’t had to make tough choices.

I’m not sure if I was really crying about leaving the East Coast.  My parents had made it clear that after age 21, I could never again live at home.  And my mother  was so cranky, stressed, and shrewish that I only took jobs during college where I could live somewhere else, and this also made it impossible to live at home on Long Island while searching for a job in Manhattan, or getting an internship.

“You’ve got to come see Jack’s house that he’s building for his son and his new wife!”  My mom urged.  But my face belied that I had just been sobbing, and I couldn’t get it together.  Finally I relented and met the young couple, who were my age, to my chagrin, and toured their beautiful new house.

When I returned home I cried again.  People my age were already married and living in houses.  I would be making $700 per month in Seattle as a teaching assistant.  Was this really what I wanted?  I decided I would rather be married and having my father-in-law build us a house.

On a plane ride to my father’s condo in Bermuda, while I was dreaming up the first monologue that would be published, I realized my own self-worth.  I realized I loved myself, my talent, my sense of humor,  my intelligence, my long thick hair and long legs and big breasts.  I thought anyone would be lucky to love me.  I had taken the first step to finding love:  I realized I loved myself. Or possibly I was a conceited narcissist.

My mom had gone out for a while and she returned with two thoughtful surprises:  a red balloon, because she knew that was my favorite movie, and a book with photos of  Seattle.

The only photo I had seen of Seattle was on a poster displaying tall evergreen trees.  “When I think of Seattle, I think of tall trees and tall men,” I told a friend.

While speeding down a highway from Providence to Chicago to visit a friend with my colleagues from Brown, driving a stick shift when I didn’t know how to use the clutch, before almost flying through the toll booth because I didn’t know how to downshift, I said, “Maybe when I get to Seattle  I’ll have a boyfriend.  Maybe he’ll have a car.  Maybe he’ll have a luxury car!”

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22. “What We Talk about when We Talk about Love”

The summer of 1988 was a terrible one for me.  I worked two jobs, one for Amway, where I was instructed to give minute to minute briefs about what my bosses were doing,  and one working as a telemarketer selling tickets to Broadway shows.  I got to see Broadway shows for free, which is why I took such an annoying, humiliating job.  Once I voiced my opinion to  a co-worker.  “People hate us.  We call their homes, interrupting whatever they’re doing, trying to sell them something they don’t need.”  She looked at me as though I had had a lobotomy.  Obviously, you can’t have too much self awareness to be a telemarketer.

Being a pesky telemarketer was just as bad as my previous job as one of those annoying people who spray perfume on you in Bloomingdale’s.  They dressed me as “Nina Ricci” in a long floral dress that was shapeless, so they actually found a rope and tied it around my waist.  I was wearing too much make-up.  They taught me the correct pronounciation of “Lair du temps” (lair do tom) and sent me to the escalators to spray people like a skunk.  Once they had me sell soap twinkies and whiskey-smelling mouthwash.  I hawked them by hollering,”Wash your kids’ mouths out with soap twinkies!”

“Want to pretend to be drunk at work?  Use our whiskey-smelling mouthwash!”

I was taken off the floor and reprimanded.

I was a terrible Willy Loman.  I was not a positive person, but a cynic.  Once I called a man to sell him tickets and he said, “I’m inside my wife.”  Then why are you answering the phone?  I had a couple of regular lonely sad customers who told me to call again and again, just to chat.  One woman wanted to meet up in Central Park.

The supervisor woman wore sundresses and acted like a drill sargent.  She screamed at us constantly.  “You’re a playwright, huh?  Well you have to sell yourself to be a playwright, and I don’t think you have it in you!”  When I left the wiry boss with a mustache gave me his number and invited me out to dinner.

Raymond Carver’s ” What We Talk About When We Talk about Love”  saved me.  I was down and out, and his tales of broken down poor people gave me comfort.  I had no time to eat a proper dinner between jobs,  so at ten o’clock p.m every night I took the subway and walked home, often in the pouring rain without an umbrella, and ate a Dove Bar for dinner.

Alison, of the couple we met in Paris, had invited me to come live with her in her studio apartment on the Upper East Side.  I slept on a mattress on the floor.  The apartment was on the ground floor with bars over the windows so there was no air conditioner.  Either it was raining or it was 100 degrees that summer.

Alison kept trying to tell me that success in school and an Ivy League education did not determine your success in the job market.  I knew that.  I had read Mary McCarthy’s The Group.

Alison first recommended that I join a temp agency for girls with Ivy League educations.  On the first day of a new job, my new boss called me from his car.

“You’re a @#$% temp? Oh @#$!”  He was screaming bloody murder at me, cursing me out and complaining about everything.  I lasted one day at that job, so the agency sent me to Amway.  I knew nothing about Amway, so I didn’t realize it was a kind of Christian Ponzi Scheme.  All I knew was that I had to call the vendors and get them to submit photos of their cheap, ugly merchandise for the catalogue.  One of the bosses there was a screamer, a woman who screamed at the male co-worker who was nice to me.

At lunch, I would sit in the bosses’ comfortable chair and order pizza.  It was so hot that the delivery man stunk up the whole office when he came in the door with the worst body odor I had ever smelled.

Alison introduced me to her friend Tim, who worked in the theater world.  He told me that that there was a job opening at Playwright’s Horizons theater, selling concessions.  So I applied, mentioning Tim’s name and that I had a master’s degree in playwriting from Brown University.  When I told Alison that I had used Tim’s name, she flew into a rage.  A lot of people were raging at me that summer.

“You don’t know how hard it is to make connections in theater in this city!” She screamed.  “Tim has cultivated his contacts for years.  He didn’t give you permission to use his name!  He doesn’t even know you!”
She wouldn’t let up.  Obviously the real reason she was upset is that she was tired of me living there.  Especially since I never bothered to clean but just watched her and commented on what a drag it was for her to have to clean on the weekend.

To shut her up, I told her I would write a letter to Playwright’s Horizons withdrawing my application.  She regarded me with stony silence until she suggested that I move back in with my mother until it was time for me to move to Seattle to earn my Ph.d.

When I got home, I saw my mother rinsing out my suitcase with a hose. “I wasn’t going to tell you this,” she said, “But your suitcase was filled with cockroaches and cockroach eggs.”  Oh, God, all the time I had been sleeping on the mattress on the floor, cockroaches had probably been crawling over me.

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